Hello, everyone! Here's another story concerning my favorite third-person space-RPG, Mass Effect! This one, however, is combined with my absolute favorite—and, coincidentally, first—RTS series.

Now, since this is a seriously AU story, I just want you all to know that some things, such as character backstories, may be very different. This mostly applies to Human characters. You'll find out more later, but obviously, you're going to have some questions at the end of this chapter. Please hold them, or at least ask them via PM, because I really don't like answering questions made in reviews.

Cycles Upon Cycles


Death of a God

Aiur, 2506 CE

James Raynor was many things. He was an outlaw, the commander of a fairly large army of rebels, and a somewhat reluctant hero. He had never wanted to get into trouble, yet it continually sought him out. At least he'd always been able to get out of every pinch, even if it was by luck or with a few scars. And despite all the war, betrayal, heartbreak and horror, he'd managed to stay true to who he was, and what he wanted to be.

However, if someone had told him that he would be leading one of three armies on an alien world against a being of unfathomable power, he'd have laughed in their face.

And yet, that's exactly what was happening. Valerian—or rather, Emperor Valerian Mengsk, as the kid insisted on being called, but Jim had cheerfully ignored him—had appointed him as leader of the Terran contingent of a three-pronged attack, alongside the Protoss and the Zerg Swarm, to destroy the fallen Xel'naga, Amon. The alien, so powerful that he might as well be a god, had taken refuge on the abandoned Protoss homeworld, and all three major players within the Koprulu Sector had joined forces to destroy him once and for all.

While the Zerg were already united, and the Protoss hadn't needed much convincing if it meant getting their home back, it had taken a major kick in the pants to get the Kel-Morian Combine and the Umojan Protectorate to align with the Terran Dominion. The three Terran powers had hated each other for years, and aside from Raynor's Raiders and Valerian, most didn't know the extent of Amon's power and considered him a matter for the aliens to deal with.

That changed when Amon blew up Earth.

In a moment of hubris, the Xel'naga had showed an image of him literally ripping every planet and fleet within the United Earth Directorate into shreds over the course of several weeks, before finishing with the Human homeworld itself. Estimates put the number of dead at almost a quarter trillion. While no Koprulu-born Terran had any love for the people who'd set their ancestors adrift through space and then tried to conquer them centuries later, seeing that many innocent people die had had an undeniable effect.

What Amon hadn't expected, however, was what kind of effect he'd had. The Terrans had been galvanized into doing anything and everything if it meant not ending up like the UED. The Kel-Morian Combine and the Umojan Protectorate had allied with the Dominion who, in turn, had signed on with the Zerg and Protoss. A fleet of unprecedented size, tens of thousands of ships, along with millions of Terrans and Protoss and billions of Zerg, had invaded Aiur with the hopes of securing peace in the Koprulu Sector.

It had been a disaster. An army of Tal'darim, Protoss fanatics who worshiped Amon, had been waiting, along with similarly-devoted Humans called the Shadow Corps and Zerg that were being controlled by Amon, had been waiting in prepared positions. Hundreds of thousands died in the first hours, with barely any ground gained for the alliance.

Jim had thought that things had gone from grim to hopeless, but he'd been wrong. As his absurd amount of luck would have it, an old friend had somehow come back from the dead. The Protoss hero, Tassadar, had arrived to save crucial elements of the allied army, and gave the beleaguered forces some much-needed support.

After a quick council of war, a final, desperate attack was launched on Amon's position; the attacking force would try to keep Amon occupied, or at least distracted, while Tassadar charged his energies into the Xel'naga artifact that had turned Sarah Kerrigan into a Human at the end of the campaign on Char. With Xel'naga energies coursing through the artifact, its true power would be unleashed, destroying Amon once and for all.

And that brought Jim back to the present. Just above him, bullets, missiles, acid and Protoss energy-weapons were being traded back and forth between the two sides. After a barrage from enemy Siege Tanks, Jim had been separated from his Raiders, but that wasn't going to stop him from at least trying to put a round between Amon's ugly eyes.

A groan from nearby made him spin around, his rifle raised; thankfully, it wasn't an enemy Terran or Zerg—if it had been a Protoss, Jim would have heard the groan in his mind, what with their entire species being psionic. And lacking mouths.

The originator of the groan, just regaining consciousness, was a friendly Terran. Even better, the symbol on his shoulder meant that he was one of Raynor's Raiders. He was a young man, barely of age to be a soldier, wearing light armor on his legs, arms and chest over a black bodysuit. He was shorter than Raynor—though that was a bit misleading, since Jim's CMC armor allowed him to tower over anyone not in a similarly designed suit. He had close-cropped hair, and a small gash on his left temple—and his helmet was nowhere to be found—but appeared otherwise unharmed.

"You okay, son?" Raynor asked, extending a hand to help the Spectre—for that was what the kid was—to his feet.

The Spectre blinked, then took the offered hand. "I'm fine, Commander. Thanks."

"No problem," Raynor grinned; most of his Raiders, along with a lot of other Terrans, treated him with borderline reverence, something he wasn't at all comfortable with. This kid, however, was much more easygoing; then again, they were on a battlefield. "What's your name, son?"

"Shepard, sir," the Spectre said as he bent down to pick up his rifle, "Aaron Shepard."

"Well, Shepard," Raynor said, hefting his own rifle, "Let's see if we can put together a real fighting force and kick Amon's ugly ass."

Shepard grinned. "With pleasure, sir."

The two men set out, grimly stepping over the bodies of fallen Terrans, Protoss and Zerg, while trying to avoid any large groups of enemies—or worse, a Hybrid, an unholy fusion of Zerg and Protoss that Amon's minions had created over the years.

Raynor was glad that he was on point; had the bolt of energy that grazed his shoulder hit Shepard instead, it could have ripped the younger man in half. As it was, the Stalker's attack drove a shallow furrow across Raynor's armored shoulder, but did no damage to his armor's systems, or to him.

I really hate the Tal'darim, Raynor thought sourly, raising his gauss rifle and peppering the four-legged walker with high-velocity spikes. The shots were deflected by the Stalker's shields for only several seconds; the walker must have been attacked by something else earlier, because the shields fell far sooner than usual.

Still, the shields and armor lasted long enough for the Stalker to adjust its aim. Before it could fire, however, Shepard rolled around Raynor's side and levelled his rifle; there was a muffled ka-chunk sound, and then a small psionically-charged shell was fired from the underslung launcher. The ultrasonic pulse detonated once it hit the Stalker, stunning it for several critical seconds, long enough for Raynor and Shepard to finish it off with sustained bursts of fire.

As the Stalker fell, its chassis smoking and full of holes, Raynor nodded approvingly at Shepard; Protoss tech was terrifying in its complexity, but the Spectre had reacted without an ounce of fear.

He also remembered where he'd seen Shepard before. The kid had been instrumental in several of the Raiders' missions, including leading a quick-reaction force to destroy waves of Nydus Worms that had attacked their base on Char. Despite how well he'd done, however, it seemed Shepard wanted nothing more than to be forgotten once his part was over. Raynor couldn't blame him; as a spec-ops soldier, the last thing Shepard would want was publicity.

"You're right about that," Shepard said, interrupting Raynor's thoughts.

"I didn't say any—oh." Raynor's skull-covered visor was down, but the glare was still effective. "Stop reading my mind, kid."

"Sorry," Shepard said, the mischievous smile showing that he most certainly wasn't, "You just have very loud thoughts."

Stupid telepaths, Raynor thought sourly, this time hoping that Shepard would hear him.

"Come on," he said out loud, "We've got a universe to save."

The smile on Shepard's face vanished, and he hefted his rifle once again. "Right behind you, sir."

Thankfully, the main allied force had drawn most of Amon's attention, so Raynor and Shepard were able to scrounge up a decent-sized force without getting noticed. A dozen Marines, a few Firebats, Marauders, a damaged Siege Tank and a Dominion Ghost that kept shooting glares at Shepard—but she was promptly ignored by the Spectre—made up the Terrans of the group, while a few Zealots, a pair of Stalkers that weren't trying to kill them, and a Dark Templar made up the Protoss contingent. The Zerg forces stayed a short distance away from the other two factions, something that made the Terrans and Protoss feel a little better; just because they were allies now didn't mean that they'd forgotten the billions slaughtered by the Swarm. Still, it was nice to have a few dozen Zerglings, a pack of Hydralisks and Roaches, plus a mighty Ultralisk, all that weren't trying to eat their faces.

As the only one respected by all three factions, Raynor was in command of the group; he found it strange giving commands to the Zerg, and it was even stranger being obeyed, but Kerrigan had sent him a terse mental message that said that those Zerg would follow him.

"Commander," Shepard reported into his comms from his position a few dozen meters ahead, along with the Ghost and the Dark Templar, "We've got eyes on a flanking force of Tal'darim and Shadow Corps. It looks like they're heading right towards the middle of the Zerg column. They aren't prepared for that kind of attack right now; they'll get split in half!"

"Got it," Raynor said, waving his forces into position with a few hand-signs and mental orders to the Protoss, "We'll be ready soon, just keep an eye on—"

"Shit!" Shepard cut in, "They've got a Hybrid leading the attack, Reaver classification!"

That sent a chill down Raynor's spine; a Hybrid could do a lot of damage on its own, and with a supporting force…

With that worrying thought in mind, Raynor quickened his stride, as did his troops. They caught up to Shepard and the scouts, all three of whom were cloaked at the top of a crystal-studded hill. Raynor gave himself a reminder to ask Artanis or Zeratul what the Protoss' deal was with crystals, then focused on the task at hand.

A hundred meters ahead of them was the flanking force. A few squads of Marines, along with a handful of Marauders and Hellions, made up the Terran side of things, while the Protoss contingent had a dozen Zealots, some Stalkers and an Immortal. Then there was the Hybrid; as a Reaver, it was built for frontline combat. With its claws and psionic powers, it could dish out the pain, while its shields and thick carapace allowed it to take an incredible amount of punishment. There was a reason why the standard practice for killing Hybrids without risk of excessive casualties called for mass barrages from Siege Tanks. Or a nuke.

"Okay, I think I've got a plan," Raynor said, studying the battlefield for a moment, "Our Marines, Stalkers and Hydralisks will hit the Zealots. Our three stealthy friends will keep the enemy Marines pinned, while our Marauders and Firebats take on the Hellions and enemy Stalkers. Zerglings, hit the Immortal; as soon as you're all done with your fights, you'll join me, the Siege Tank, Zealots, Roaches and the Ultralisk with the Hybrid."

{Are you sure of this plan, friend Raynor?} one of the Zealots asked.

The best Raynor could give was a shrug. "It all depends on how fast everyone finishes their fights, and if we can take 'em by surprise. Anyone got a better plan?"

When no one offered, Jim took it as a sign that they were all on board. He slung his gauss rifle onto the mag-lock on his back, then switched to the Commando Rifle; he only had a few of the powerful Penetrator Rounds left, so he'd been saving them for high-value targets, like a Hybrid.

"Let's do this," he said, and aimed his rifle, "Attack on my move."

There was a crack, and then the Hybrid staggered as the Penetrator Round slammed into its shield, almost breaking it. The sudden attack threw the rest of the enemy force into a brief state of confusion; it was all Raynor's troops needed to make the first move.

Still cloaked, Shepard and the Ghost began making precise headshots on the Marines, dropping each one easily. A few seconds later, the Dark Templar had crossed the gap and began swinging away with the twin Psi-blades mounted on either end of his staff; limbs and heads were severed, and more than one man was completely bisected.

Raynor's Marines, Stalkers and Hydralisks opened fire on the enemy Zealots with a combination of bullets, energy blasts and poisoned spines. The Tal'darim shields kept most alive, but none escaped without injury; still, they recklessly threw themselves at their attackers, cutting down several Marines, a pair of Hydralisks and one of the Stalkers before they themselves were killed. The Marauders and Firebats went to work on the Hellions, the former bringing down two with sustained barrages of grenades before the enemy vehicles got close enough to use their flamethrowers. Still, the Firebats were able to shrug off the worst of the fire as they moved in close to burn the Hellion pilots to death within their cockpits.

The Zerglings overwhelmed the Immortal handily, only taking a few casualties before the walker was destroyed; the small Zerg creatures joined the survivors of the other groups and killed the remaining enemy Marines. Now, all that was left to kill was the Hybrid itself.

That was easier said than done; even weakened by Raynor's rifle and a shot from the Siege Tank, it was still standing. It had managed to kill several of the Zealots, a Roach and rip a gaping hole in the Ultralisk with just a few sweeping blows from its claws. But then the surviving Roaches had attacked; fortunately, they'd been of the Vile strain, and their acidic spit had hardened around the Hybrid's limbs, slowing it down. Things got even worse for the abomination when the rest of Raynor's forces moved in; bullets, spines and energy-bolts ripped into its hide, followed by the massive blades of the injured, but very angry, Ultralisk.

Still, even with all that, the monster refused to die. Raynor resisted the urge to sigh as he reached for another Penetrator Round; he doubted it would work on Amon anyway, so he might as well use it on one of his pets. The high-powered, explosive shot burrowed into the Hybrid's skull, then exploded, showering the area with the alien's skull and brains.

Raynor had no time to celebrate the minor victory, however; just beyond the next ridge, at the top of an old Protoss temple—or possibly Xel'naga; Raynor had trouble discerning which when on Aiur—there was a massive beam of light that stretched skyward. Raynor felt a chill go down his spine.

"Anyone who's not hurt, come with me now!" he shouted, rushing past Shepard, who had been bandaging the Ghost's leg—she had been unlucky and had taken a stray shot from a gauss rifle.

Shepard hesitated a moment, then got a nod from the Ghost; that was enough for him to stand up and rush after Raynor, several Marines, Zealots and Zerg right behind him. In the back of Raynor's mind, he was grateful for any backup he could get, but the sight of the temple lighting up like that had reminded him of the brief council of war that had been held right before the final attack.

"Jim, when I reach the temple, I'm going straight for Amon," Kerrigan had said, "When that happens, you're going to see a lot of bright lights… and then all hell is going to break loose."

That was what worried Raynor now; the Queen of Blades was fighting a god, but unlike anyone with any sense—which would be anyone who wasn't part of this battle—he was heading towards the fight to end all fights.

He doubted he'd be able to make any difference; if anything, he'd just get in the way. But he had to be at Kerrigan's side.

Despite all the misery she'd caused, the billions she'd slaughtered, both the first time she'd been infested and the second, he still loved her.

He scowled as a pair of Tal'darim Zealots got in his way; after all the crap he'd gone through over the last half of his life, not to mention the last few days, he was not going to be stopped by a couple of fanatics.

"Get the hell out of my way!" he shouted, dropping his Commando Rifle and pulling out his gauss rifle, peppering both Protoss with spikes. His fire was soon joined by Shepard's and the other Marines who had caught up with him. Before the Tal'darim could close the distance, the friendly Protoss counter-charged, their twin psi-blades ripping through the weakened shields, then the armor, and then the flesh.

Raynor hesitated only long enough to grab his Commando Rifle, and then he was running at full speed towards the temple again. He was so focused that it took several tries before he noticed that someone was trying to reach him on comms.

"What is it?" he asked, not breaking stride.

"Commander, we've picked up massive amounts of energy," said Matt Horner, Jim's second-in-command and closest friend, from his position aboard the Raiders' flagship, the Hyperion, "We've got psionics off the scale, plus artifact radiation—Artanis has ordered all Protoss away from the temple, or the power will drain the life out of them. The same is being done with the Zerg; other than Kerrigan, they won't be able to survive that kind of proximity."

"Got it," Raynor said tersely, "Power is bad, aliens are leaving."

Sensing the tension in his friend's tone, Matt's own voice softened. "Just be careful, sir, and good luck."

"Thanks," Raynor said, then cut the link—he and his men were at the temple.

It wasn't hard to see the fight, but it was hard to see who was winning. Amon was there, dark and terrible and promising nothing short of the end of the universe.

But Sarah Kerrigan, the Queen of Blades, was fighting him anyway.

Raw psychic power poured from her hands, blasting into the strange barrier that Amon had conjured up. It wasn't a shield, like the ones used by the Protoss or the more advanced Terran tech, but it was something else; it was as if Amon were using pieces of the void itself to absorb Kerrigan's attacks. It might have been enough to make Kerrigan feel helpless, if she was fighting him one-on-one.

She wasn't, however; she was only buying time for Tassadar to finish charging the Xel'naga artifact. Raynor wasn't sure what would happen when the artifact was used for its true purpose; he could only hope that it killed Amon for good this time, and didn't take the rest of the universe with him.

It seemed almost anticlimactic in the end; the fight between Amon and Kerrigan couldn't have gone on for more than a few minutes, but at some wordless signal—or telepathic, Raynor realized; Tassadar probably told her to get out of the way—Kerrigan pushed off the top of the temple, leaving Amon wide open.

A beam of energy lanced forth, passing through Amon's barrier like it didn't exist, and struck the fallen Xel'naga in the chest. There was a roar of pain, rage and denial, and then Amon exploded; the shockwave was felt across the planet, and even among the ships in orbit. For the people near the temple, however, there was a more immediate danger; arcs of black lightning rained down, gouging out deep furrows in the ground.

Raynor and the Marines managed to avoid getting struck, but Shepard wasn't so lucky; one bolt hit him the chest and, like some kind of homing beacon, dozens more hit him over the next few seconds. He screamed in agony, then fell to the ground, twitching.

Raynor started to head towards the fallen Raider, but a tumbling form crashed between him and Shepard. With a groan, Kerrigan struggled to her feet; since she was closer, Raynor went to her first.

"You okay, darlin'?" he asked as he steadied her.

When she was Human, Kerrigan had needed to crane her neck to look Jim in the eye if he was in his armor. Now that she was Zerg again, she was almost as tall as a Marine in full armor; she only needed to tilt her head slightly to smile at Raynor.

"I'm fine, Jim," she said in that dual-tone voice that all Zerg seemed to have, "I think it worked."

{It did,} Tassadar said, his voice ringing in their heads as he floated down to where Raynor and Kerrigan were; he hovered a few inches off the ground, the artifact slowly circling him. {Amon is no more; if there is anything left, it will never be enough to revive again.}

"Oh, fantastic," Shepard, still lying on the ground, groaned, "That means that I didn't get zapped for nothing."

One of the Marines helped the Spectre to his feet; Raynor looked like he was about to make sure that he was all right, but Shepard, sensing his intentions, waved him off. There were more important things to do.

"So, Tassadar, ol' buddy," Raynor said, raising an eyebrow at the Xel'naga, "Amon's dead, so what happens now?"

Tassadar hesitated for a moment. {I will take the artifact to a place where no one can misuse it… until it is needed again.}

"I thought that the artifact's final purpose was to kill Amon?" Kerrigan frowned. "What else is out there that could need something so powerful used against it?"

Even in the guise of a Protoss, Tassadar looked grim. {There is another threat on the horizon, my friends. An enemy almost as old as the Xel'naga is preparing to return; it may take years, even decades, but they will return, and the galaxy will drown in blood.}

Raynor shared an apprehensive glance with Kerrigan; that didn't sound good.

{Rebuild what has been lost,} Tassadar advised, {Enjoy the peace while it lasts, but keep a wary eye on the horizon. I have seen what may be; you will find enemies and allies alike among the stars, but all must be prepared to end the cycle.}

And so it begins…

Now, I know that many of you will have questions, and probably criticisms, too. Let me explain a few things.

The end of the UED: Yes, I killed off Earth and the UED. Does that mean that they won't have an influence further on in the story? Hell no! However, this means that there won't be a Systems Alliance. Just be patient, things will be explained.

Shepard in StarCraft: I'll just say it now, this story is AU. Because the Systems Alliance and the Human side of Mass Effect never happened, you're going to see a lot of Mass Effect characters as StarCraft units. In this instance, Shepard is a Spectre, but the Terran kind. I'm using the default male Shepard face, by the way. Also, bonus muffin if you correctly guess who that Ghost was.

Amon: Since, at the time of this writing, the last part of the StarCraft 2 trilogy has yet to be released, I made up this ending, including Tassadar as a Xel'naga. I'm not completely sure if it's true of if he just came back as a Force-ghost during that bit in 'Wings of Liberty'. In the future, I will be adding things I see from released information concerning 'Legacy of the Void'.

Raynor's perspective: Raynor was the main focus for this chapter, but as the story goes on, the focus will shift to Shepard, for the most part. That doesn't mean that Jimmy is going to disappear, far from it; you can be sure that he, and just about every other canon character from the StarCraft games that are still alive will be making appearances, even if they're brief.

I know that I left a lot of descriptions… undescribed, but this chapter was supposed to be action-oriented. The next couple of chapters will be slower, allowing for more descriptions.

I hope you enjoyed the first chapter and want to read more, because I've been looking forward to this story for months! Another thing I've been looking forward to: the first muffin quote of this story!

Some muffins are just worth fighting for.